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Movie's future isn't 'Arrested,' writer promises

Dale Roe

Mitch Hurwitz knows exactly what he's doing.

On the phone, he comes across as shy, hilarious in an understated, freeform, stealthy way and ridiculously unprepared. He plays his cards deceptively close to the vest but, in spite of the recent announcement that the long-awaited movie version of "Arrested Development," his cult-favorite Fox television show, is on the way, Hurwitz doesn't play the diva card. No subjects are off the table: not the big-screen saga of "Arrested's" spoiled Bluth family and their frozen banana stand; not even the failure of his most recent project, the animated Fox sitcom "Sit Down Shut Up," which was canceled after only four episodes.

I caught Hurwitz before he appeared on several panels and was honored as Outstanding Television Writer at the 2009 Austin Film Festival last week. He was at work with a team of writers on a new Fox project for Will Arnett. "It's very difficult to walk away and talk about myself," he says.

American-Statesman: You're aware that the chatter on the Internet is that all of these other things you're working on are holding up the 'Arrested Development' movie.

Mitch Hurwitz: Yes, I saw that. I guess I'm OK with that belief. But, in fact, what's holding up the "Arrested Development" movie is my need to develop some sort of ... what's the word here ... income (he laughs). Well, there were a couple of things that were holding up the "Arrested Development" movie. ... we didn't have the actors on board. Anyway, we're finally doing it.

So, all that's left is for you to get the script done?

(He feigns anger) OK! Come on! I'm trying! I know, I have to get the script done now, right? There has to be a script, right? Yes, there's going to be a movie, but I can't promise it won't be "Arrested Development: The Improv Movie." I had a great idea for a while just to really annoy the fans, which was that I was going to, like, let people know that we were in production and then ... come out with an old-fashioned variety show where it's like a Christmas special and it's the Bluths and they're singing, they're wearing matching sweaters. Then you would cut away; then it would be like maybe like a sketch that was like (the characters) Maeby and George Michael and he's fishing and she works at a diner, and then back to another song (he laughs); really be just like, 'This is a HUGE disappointment'. I can't believe I could get any of the people who hold the purse strings to go along with this plan ... everyone would hate it and then they would kind of like it, you know. It would kind of come around.

I think you've managed to get the people who hold onto the purse strings to sign on to some pretty unique stuff.

Well, maybe then. Maybe we'll keep this to ourselves. Then all of a sudden, like, Gob ... you come up, Gob's in front of this fake fireplace and he, as well as he possibly can, sings "Chestnuts roasting on an open —" (laughs) What is this?

Liza Minnelli would be good. (Minnelli played Lucille Austero on the show.)

We don't give her a song, though. She's just in the sketch. She's the waitress.

So, you're getting an award at the Austin Film Festival.

That's what I heard! That's so flattering. I can't even imagine ... showing up. I really can't imagine that I'm going to show up for this.

Have you been to Austin before?

You know, I haven't. My mom and dad lived there at the start of their marriage and he went to law school there, University of Texas at Austin, and just has always raved about it. It's apparently just this wonderful, um, mismatch with the rest of Texas. I haven't spent much time in Texas, so I don't mean that as a slight on Texas.

That's a pretty accurate assessment. Are you going to visit our frozen banana stand, Bananarchy, while you're here?

OK, so Arnett really wanted to come, except he's out of town that week. Apparently they sell a "Gob." (Note: They do. Two bananas double-dipped in chocolate and covered in peanuts). And he really wanted to go and get it. And then I said, "You know what we should do — we should rent you a Segway and you should roll up to the banana stand and say, 'I'll take a plain, please. Do you have one that's just plain?' and don't say, 'Give me a Gob.' "

That would be perfect.

You know, I really did grow up in an area that had two competing banana stands. It was on (California's) Balboa Island. And I was running a little chocolate chip cookie stand that I started with my brother, which really more than anything was the model for the banana stand in the show. And, in fact, my brother was so delighted in the second episode when we burned down the banana stand that he said, "You burned down the Chip Yard!" That was what our cookie place was called, the Chip Yard. "That's so great! Does Dad know?"

I'm scared to ask you what other parts of 'Arrested Development' were informed by your childhood.

You know, probably not that much. I had done a show that did have a lot of elements of my family in it and it just about destroyed my family, so with this one, I decided, "Let me be a little more imaginative." Which I think is a very common writer thing. I think people tend to start off writing their story, and then they start using their imagination.

So what happened with 'Sit Down Shut Up'?

Um, no one watched it. And those that did didn't like it. (He feigns outrage) Any other questions?

I had to ask.

It was based on an Australian show, which ... was just a hilarious show, and I had originally written it as a live-action adaptation. And it was just too daffy for everybody. So I said, "Well, why don't we do it as an animated show? But it'll be kind of a realistic animated show." Because what I wanted to capture was every single character in the show was oblivious. In fact, I'd even written this adaptation before I did "Arrested Development" and they were all kind of models for Tobias. So then once I did that as an animated show, suddenly it wasn't kind of wacky enough to be an animated show. And that was one where I just didn't quite stand my ground and I just kind of said, "OK" ... if you're telling me it's not funny enough I'll always rise to that challenge. So I just started packing it full of jokes and I think it just became an overload.

Where does the Will Arnett project fall on the comedy spectrum?

I think it's really funny. It's Will and a woman he's trying to win and they're kind of opposites. I will say it is a big entertainment. It's not like some of these more realistic shows that I happen to be a huge fan of. I mean, I love "The Office" and I love "Parks and Recreation." But this is, uh, bigger and (it features) characters that aren't everyday characters. It's got kind of an original tone that way. It's not completely relatable, but we're not trying to be that relatable ... I think Will's a wonderful actor and I hope we're putting in things that he'll be able to really sink his teeth into and people will care.

I can't wait to see what you do next. But, especially, that movie.

OK, I'm on it. Think about the Christmas idea. Really. If you think it's viable, let me know in Austin.

I'll float it out there and see what the readers think.

OK, good.